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Alaska competes against fish farmers

Posted: Monday, April 17, 2000

Norwegians have launched a $74 million marketing blitz for farmed salmon and trout to span the next three years. Norway is not alone in ramping up its marketing effort. A portion of the Norwegian war chest is earmarked for joint marketing of Norwegian, Scottish and Irish salmon in Europe, but the bulk of it is destined for the United States and Japan.

The salmon farming giants of the world, including Norway, Chile and Canada, are hungry for bigger shares of established export markets in Japan and Europe, as well as the developing markets of China and Korea. They jostle for the coveted position of leading importer of farmed salmon into the United States. And they understand that marketing activity is the key.

When it comes to the global seafood market, Alaska competes head-to-head with the giants. Over half the U.S. seafood catch comes from Alaska, and the United States ranks fourth among nations. To stay in the game, Alaska has to market aggressively.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute provides a great boost to the Alaska seafood industry. Through its promotional activities Alaska seafood is marketed as a brand - like Idaho Potatoes - in the United States and 15 countries around the world. This year, about $10 million is available to cover programs for all species. Of that, $7.2 million comes from the Alaska seafood industry, $2.8 million of it federal money. ASMI's budget might not seem like much compared to a Norwegian war chest averaging $27 million a year, but fortunately Alaska does have some unique advantages.

ASMI's strategic marketing effort spans the globe. The ``grassroots'' marketing program targets retailers, chefs, food-service distributors, food writers and others who influence our food choices and trends. During the past year the number of ASMI's promotional partners among U.S. supermarkets and restaurants has doubled, covering over 5,000 restaurants and 60 grocery store chains. The promotions in the United States moved over 45 million pounds of Alaska seafood (excluding canned salmon sales); those overseas moved over 8 million pounds.

Over the last five years, our commercial salmon harvests have accounted for an average of 98 percent of the U.S. wild salmon production, and this past summer, we had the second largest salmon harvest in recorded history. Alaska has the most pristine, productive waters on the planet. Our combination of salmon habitat, environmental protection and resource management is the envy of the world.

More than half of the world's growing salmon supply is now produced on farms, and the demand for salmon has kept pace. However, all is not rosy for those in the salmon farming industry, and this presents opportunities for Alaska. We offer salmon that is pure, natural, and sustainably harvested. Consumer appreciation of these qualities is growing, particularly in Europe, where there has been a groundswell of interest in natural products free of additives or genetic modification, and that are harvested in a way that protects the long term health of the resource.

Last spring, I attended the European Seafood Exhibition in Brussels, the world's largest seafood trade show. Scores of salmon farms were competing with each other to sell identical products. At the Alaska Seafood pavilion, bigger than the U.S. pavilion, ASMI and 21 seafood companies had the most successful year so far in terms of trade leads and traffic. There was particular interest in our value-added salmon products. We marketed natural, wild-caught Alaska seafood, and our Alaska salmon really stood out as unique; looking at the number of visitors attracted to our booth, I was grateful for the uniqueness of our products.

The Alaska salmon industry includes a host of players. We can meet the challenges of the world salmon market by offering consumers the high-quality, convenient Alaska salmon products they are seeking, and through ASMI, we will continue to engage in effective strategic marketing initiatives around the world.

Jim Kallander is chairman of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and a commercial fisherman from Cordova.



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